When Dell Texmo applied, with business partner Penny Hansen, for a loan from the federal Business Development Bank, she ran into some difficulty.
“In those days, in the 1970s, it was very difficult for women to get business loans,” said Keith Storey, Texmo’s partner of 45 years. But they were prepared for the loan officer. “They basically told him that if he wanted their husbands to sign off on this, they’d have his guts for garters.”
Actually, Storey clarifies, what they told him was something a little more profane. It wasn’t garters they’d have, but bookends. And it would not be his guts, but a part of the male anatomy. They got the loan.
That was for Upstairs Downstairs on Bates Hill in St. John’s — a restaurant upstairs, and a kitchenware store downstairs that opened in 1976.
“For the first time you could buy cheesecake and quiche in Newfoundland. That was upstairs,” said Storey. “And downstairs you had all the pans and bits and pieces to make them with.”
It was also the start of a long business career in St. John’s for Texmo, who died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer at 68. Texmo opened Living Rooms, a furniture and accessories store, and Speakeasy, a wine bar, in the Murray Premises in 1979 — a Dining Rooms in Churchill Square and another Living Rooms in the Village Shopping Centre would follow. A two-time finalist for the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, and, in 2000, the Eastern Canada Retailer of the Year, Texmo most recently began selling Mummers the Word collectibles, in 2008, in addition to numerous awards, honours and board of directors positions. Texmo served on the steering committee for the Canadian Association for Women Business Owners, the board of directors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Tennis Association and, from 2000 to 2006, the Newfoundland Power Board of Directors.
Local businesswoman and former member of Parliament Siobhan Coady called Texmo a “dynamo” and said she was a big reason for St. John’s’ downtown renaissance.
“What she brought to the downtown area during an era when there wasn’t a whole lot in downtown, especially of the ilk, the kind of store she was developing,” she said. “She played a large role in the development of the city in that regard. She was one of the leading local retailers of the time, and even in later years, when she started producing the Mummers, just a rediscovery of the traditional Newfoundland icons. And now they’re collectors’ items and people trade them on eBay … just the way she was able to look at St. John’s and see the potential and develop that potential certainly contributed to the development of the city.”
But Texmo’s business dealings came after Texmo made a local impact in academia, as a lecturer in Memorial University’s English department. She and Storey came to Newfoundland together in 1971 to teach at MUN, after meeting at Simon Fraser University, where Texmo earned her master’s in contemporary English literature.
“She was literally the first person I met when I arrived at Simon Fraser University, and that was it. Smitten,” said Storey. “I’m biased, but she was remarkable.”